How Do You Track Your Word Count? (And Other Things)

Do not adjust your sets. This really is a new blog post. Yes, new material has appeared on this blog. Be gone, tumbleweeds!

I have been MIA because the last six weeks or so have been crazy. I had three university assignments due on the same day, followed by, oh, you know, 100,000 words or so of a book, followed by an exam that I basically had 24 hours to cram for. (Fun fact: my exam was on the history of the book so I was able to throw in loads of stuff about e-books, and I wrote about Celebration, Florida, for one of my assignments.)

Credit: Kathryn English, Blackstone Publishing

In the midst of all that I also wrote a piece about a real life cruise ship murder for the Irish Times, won an award and, needless to say, watched all of 13 Reasons Why because my motto is No Netflix Left Behind even when you don’t have time to sleep and even if the show is utterly rage-inducing on multiple levels. Side note: roll on Master of None this coming Friday. (I think MON is one of the great televisual shows ever made.)

What else have I been up to, I pretend to hear you ask?

Happy Birthday, Distress Signals

Distress Signals, my serial-killer-on-a-cruise-ship-thriller (nautical noir, we’re calling it) was first published a year ago yesterday, which means it’s been a year since the actual craziest week of my life. You and I can relive all the excitement here.

Credit: Hazel Gaynor

The twelve months since have been tough, trying to write a second novel while also doing a full-time degree and being constantly distracted by the shiny stuff of publication (and, ahem, Netflix), but they have also had so many exciting and happy moments. My launch, getting shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, finding that one of my favourite bookstores in the world, the Barnes and Noble at Dr Philips in Orlando – where I wiled away many a blissfully happy hour – had DS in stock. (This was seriously, like, the BEST.)

I must say a big THANK YOU to everyone who read, reviewed and recommended Distress Signals to their friends and followers. You are all lovely and deserve to drink only good coffee, never instant. To celebrate, my lovely American publishers have slashed the price of Distress Signals‘ digital edition to just $0.99 – its RRP is $9.99 – but only for a limited time. So if you haven’t read it yet, you live in the States and you’d read an e-book, quick, go! Or if you know someone else who fits that criteria who you think might be interested, tell them! More exclamation marks!

While I was typing this, something ah-maze-ZING happened: Distress Signals slipped into the No. 1 spot on Barnes and Nobles’ NOOK bookstore. In other words, it became the top selling NOOK book. Whaaa…? I may have to frame this.

Distress Signals can be purchased for sofa-change from, Barnes and Noble and Kobo USA, among others.


For some reason May is like peak events over here. I have three coming up: I’m doing a Marketing and Publicity Workshop with Peter O’Connell for Publishing Ireland next week, May 11 (suitable for both publishing professionals and writers), then I’ll be on the Twists and Turns panel at Crimefest, Bristol, on May 18, and finally I’ll be taking part in the How To Get Published Day at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, as part of the International Literature Festival: Dublin on May 20. For more information on any or all of these, go to my Events page and click on the relevant image.

I’m also going to London next week to hit a few stationery shops, Foyles and Hotel Chocolat, but that’s really just an event on my personal calendar…

Book 2

You guys, as a Youtuber might say, we are almost there. In a couple of weeks, Book 2 will be done*. (Can I just give you some unsolicited advice? If you are an aspiring writer who dreams of getting a book deal, here’s what you need to do the second you type THE END on the submission draft of the book you hope will get you published: open a new document, type CHAPTER ONE and start the book after that. Don’t wait, because if your dreams come true, there’ll be lots of shiny exciting fun stuff that will distract you and your deadlines will crumble to dust.) I can’t wait to tell you about it, share the title, show you the cover, etc. but I can’t do any of that just yet. What I can say is:

  • It’s another standalone thriller
  • It’s due for publication early next year
  • It’s set on dry land and that dry land is Dublin, but water does feature.

*Ready for copyediting.

Book 3 (and How Do YOU Track Your Word Count?)

Book three?! I know, right? How did we even get here? Well, that’s what I’ll be doing this summer: writing the first draft of my third thriller. I have an idea that I’m really, really excited about, as my writing friends will testify to because I’ve been blabbing about it— I mean, um, testing it out on them for months now.

One thing I really want to do is obsessively track my word count. I want to be able to say exactly how long it took me to write this novel. So, tell me: how do you track your word count? I was hoping to use Prolifiko after I read this fascinating article in The Guardian about how long – exactly – it took Wyl Menmuir to write his Booker-longlisted novel, but when I went to look at the app it wasn’t what I was expecting. (And you have to do a five day writing ‘challenge’ to unlock access. Um, no.) Have you used it? Are there alternatives? Any good apps? Or do you rely on spreadsheets, etc?

Let me know in the comments below because I really want something good I can use going forward. Any one who leaves a suggestion/comment on this topic will be entered into a draw for a prize that will probably consist of (a) a signed book, (b) something caffeinated, probably and (c) stationery so I have an excuse to buy some fancy stuff in London. (If you don’t track your word count at all it’s okay to leave a comment saying that. That counts as an entry.)

So, to recap:

  • Sherlock lives— I mean, this blog does
  • Distress Signals is discounted to $0.99 for a limited time – tell your friends!
  • Tell me how you track your word count/novel progress. You might win something…

I just sent out a newsletter. Have you signed up to receive my sporadic musings, eh? You should, if I do say so myself. 

33 thoughts on “How Do You Track Your Word Count? (And Other Things)

  1. Abby Geiger (@AbbyGeiger) says:

    I use an Excel spreadsheet to track everything. Word count, page count, chapter count, what day it is in the story during each chapter (very important, I’ve found!), a synopsis of what happens in each chapter, and a column for notes-n-things. The fact that I have to manually enter info into the spreadsheet means I’m seeing the ‘big picture’ regularly and helps me know/remember what the heck is going on.

  2. Marleen Kennedy says:

    I use a Google Docs spreadsheet to keep track of my word count. And I don’t limit myself to ‘just’ the book(s) I happen to be working on. I also keep track of the word counts for flash fiction I write and guest posts. I like to remind myself that all words count and that I shouldn’t beat myself up when there are days when I don’t actually work on (one of) my WIP(s).

  3. Sieglinde McGee says:

    I use Scrivener. It saves automatically, is great for management of long documents that have many parts, can show your word count at the bottom of the page as you work, lets you set word count targets for each section, and much more. Its desktop software was designed for Mac but also has a Windows version, and they launched an app for it too last year, so you can carry it with you everywhere you go.

  4. Susan Lee Kerr says:

    I try not to be too obsessive, so open a new doc for each draft chapter (or chunk when I don’t know yet if it’s a chapter). At the end of a session there’s the word count at the bottom, or in properties. For a reward, now and then I scrawl the quantities on the last page of the last print out. Oh yeah call me old fashioned I do print out drafts from time to time. Good luck on all your endeavours Catherine!

  5. Dysfunctional Womans Digest says:

    CRH—Congratulations! As an aspiring writer who has started no fewer than seven books (but finished zero), I am going to take your advice and write The End and see what happens! As for word count, I just use my word count at the end of the Microsoft doc…? Does it need to be more complicated? I am planning a trip to Wales in 2018 and would love to skip on over to Dublin for a chance to see the stomping grounds of my all-time favorite writer, Oscar. Thanks for the skinny on your new book! DWD

    • forever_herie says:

      I join the club , Microsoft word does all that for me it also tracks the time i spent working on the work.. Not knowing i could have left it in the background and ended up watching Jane the virgin

  6. donkearns says:

    I too use scrivener, on PC and Mac. And also now on iPad and iPhone. There’s a bit of a learning curve to get the best out of it. Thankfully there’s a supplied tutorial. Word counting is one of the many things it does well. Highly recommended.

  7. Lene says:

    I don’t track my word count, at least not at first. So far, I write non-fiction and plan each chapter to average about a particular word count, more or less. I generally don’t know how many words the book will be until I compile all the chapters into one manuscript. And then I’m usually gobsmacked at how many words I’ve written.

  8. kathleen howard says:

    great to see you are the top nook book looking forward to your next book enjoy London hope all assignments went well love from k and j in sunny maspalomas! !!!

  9. Jon Chaisson says:

    Woo! Great to see things are going well!

    As for wc, I’m still lo-fi: I write using MS Word, so I just highlight the words I wrote that day and write it down in my desk planner. If I want to compare days or get an average, etc, then I’ll throw them up on a spreadsheet. 🙂

  10. Anne-Maree Gray says:

    I use Scrivener to write but for word count and goals I use a free app, at least for the first two plans, called
    It’s neat. They have expanded it recently to include tracking other things like steps or hours – for editing.
    You can tell it what you want to write – say 200k words in 6 weeks or whatever – tell it you don’t work weekends OR you only work weekends- and it will generate your daily targets. You can choose random targets, daily steps, or a big push at the end. From doing nanowrimo I know that graph motivates me better than anything else.

  11. Linda Acaster (@LindaAcaster) says:

    Congratulations, Catherine. You’re doing so well.

    Wordcount? I use a Word.doc (and I do mean .doc, skinflint that I am) and create a table seven columns wide: Mon-Fri, Weekly Count, Running Total. Below is listed a precis of the building chapters, each starting with chapter number, wordcount, where & when and colour-coded pov character for at-a-glance overall balance.

    I’ve never got the hang of spreadsheets. Perhaps I should try for the next book.
    Keep going. The only way is on-wards.

  12. Andy says:

    Having read all your intellectual output I am delighted to know that book three is nearly there, on the shelf. .I am looking forward to being able to read the next instalment of the caffeinated Catherine Ryan Howard novels. The best is yet to come..

  13. Nicki says:

    I use a spreadsheet, Excel or Google, to track fiction words, blog words, etc. There’s a space for a comment on each day, and I note which story I’m working on. Excuse me, though. I need to go snag an ebook… 😉

  14. Cyril Vallee says:

    Hey there !
    I use a menubar program called Wordcounter. It logs automatically my word count on any application I set it to watch (for instance : Scrivener, Ulysses and Word). Then I use a custom spreadsheet that I feed with the data of Wordcounter, which propose a calendar view with the total wc day by day…
    Check it here :

  15. Liz says:

    I don’t do enough to warrant counting the words but I have great admiration for those like you, Catherine, who can produce words worthy of being read by others.
    Congrats on making the top of the of the B&N e-reading chart! And all the very best for your future projects.
    From your fan since Mousetrapped.

  16. cherylsterling1955 says:

    1. I downloaded your book (Thank you, Amazon, for the discount)
    2. I track my word count the old fashioned, boring way-with Excel. I’m interested to learn if there’s a jazzy app for it.
    3. Good luck on all your endeavors. I’ll be writing this summer as well. a psychological thriller, a genre I’ve never attempted.

  17. June says:

    Firstly, congrats on your book birthday and all the other fab stuff! I can’t imagine how exciting that all must be.

    I use Scrivener for writing and absolutely love it. It’s great for organising your scenes or chapters, seeing a “post-it” style overview of your full book, storing all your reference material, etc. As others have mentioned, you can set targets per session or per “document” (e.g., a scene or chapter) and you can click on any scene or chapter to see the number of words in that scene. However, what you CAN’T do is see how many words you wrote on a particular day. For this you need an external tool. I do almost everything in Scrivener and use a spreadsheet to literally just keep a count of the number of words I write each day. A simple formula lets me see when I’ll finish if I keep going at the same rate. I’m happy to provide a template if that helps!

  18. Laura says:

    I’m giving a shot for my second book. My struggle is editing the first!!! (well, there’s a lot more struggles than that but we’ll stick with it for this comment. unless you are a priest and want a full confession. hehehe no i’m not catholic, not sure where that came from… anyhow…) I’m trying to fill in gaps and such but it’s so overwhelming. Sigh. Anyway, Congrats on all exciting stuff! =)

  19. janig717 says:

    I couldn’t resist the 99 cent sale…I really enjoyed reading your book. Congratulations on maintaining your focus and achieving your goals…and much more it seems!

  20. Tracey Walsh says:

    Although I’ve finally moved on to typing directly on laptop instead of writing longhand in notebooks first, I still track my word count on paper. It’s more to do with setting myself a target number of words per day/week rather than tracking how long a piece of work has taken. I like having a target finish date.
    So I’ll work out what date I’ll finish if so write x number of words per day, and tick off each day’s words.

  21. pjb317 says:

    I’m old school – I just use the Microsoft Word count even though I know it’s not terribly accurate. (When I use ellipses properly, i.e., with spaces in between (. . . . rather than ….), it counts each of the dots as a word. Whatever. The point is to make progress, and since the whole word count thing will be going down the tubes anyway as soon as I start to edit (which means trimming those enormously long sentences into a single pithy statement), I can’t get too worked up about it.

  22. Mette Camilla Melgaard says:

    I track my word count the analogue way – on paper. I write down the number of words written each day in a notebook (gives me a reason to buy more notebooks = happiness!). Oh and hurray Birthday AND book award!! (arms in the air) Congrats! Would love to read your book – maybe I could get some danish publisher to read it afterwards unless you already have a deal for publication in Denmark?

  23. catherineryanhoward says:

    I totally forgot to pick a winner here! Apologies. The book and stationery surprise is going to – drum roll, please – Ann-Maree Gray! (because I’m actually using her suggestion – it’s fab).

    Thanks everyone for commenting/entering!

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